Home » The Forgottenest Passat: Cold Start

The Forgottenest Passat: Cold Start

Cs Passat1

I’m not really sure why this picture of a Volkswagen Passat four-door fastback sedan caught my attention, other than that it’s a version of one of those cars that most of us completely forgot about and a namplate that, as of this year, is no longer available in America. The Passat ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but for whatever reason, I feel like looking back at a few of these, in whatever names they called them.

Cs Passat Press

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

It’s easy to forget, but in America, this was Volkswagen’s first liquid-cooled car sold, a radical departure from the air-cooled, rear-engined VWs everyone knew. These made it to market before the Golf/Rabbit, even if they weren’t nearly as popular. And sure, VW had a liquid-cooled car before this, the K70, but that was an NSU design that never came to America, and they never built that many, anyway.

Cs Passat 3

But the Passat was VW’s first hint that the company was changing, a front-engined, angular design from ItalDesign that looked nothing like any sort of insect. It was the start of how VW gradually became modern NSU/DKW/Auto Union, which is really what they are today.


Of course, in America, for some reason they called the Passat the Dasher, which is actually a pretty good name, and these were pitched as “luxury” VWs, which, compared to the old Beetles and stuff, they were:

VW was weird about the name for this car in America. They later changed it, in the 1980s, to the “Quantum” partially because of the Audi-derived five-cylinder engines available:

I always liked the Passat that first carried that name in America, the B3, mostly because of what I thought was a very cool grille-less design, especially in wagon form:


Cs Passat2

VW’a own press materials are less kind to it, though. Look at what their own media site says about this generation (emphasis mine):

Passat B3 (1990-1994)
The first Passat to be built off a Volkswagen, as opposed to Audi platform, this was also the first model to be marketed as “Passat” in the U.S. It was based off a stretched Golf platform, with a transverse front-engine layout; it was also engineered to accept Volkswagen’s own Syncro all-wheel-drive system. It was sold only as a four-door sedan and a wagon, with slightly bland styling dictated by aerodynamics—there was no grille at the front, just a large VW badge. The U.S.-market Passat had a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 134 horsepower; from 1992, the 2.8-liter VR6® engine making 172 hp was available, giving the car a significant performance bump.

It was daring! Not bland! It got bland when they chickened out and added a grille back, like candy-asses.

Also, the grille-less design reminded me of the Passat’s air-cooled predecessor in the lux-VW category, the Type 4:


Anyway, when was the last time you saw a Passat fastback sedan? I can’t remember, even. Or even more rare, the three-door one: Cs Passat 4

With those black rubbery spoilers at the back! These were kinda cool. You’re more likely to see a sasquatch driving a Lotus 7, though.

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Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
7 months ago

Here in Europe, something like 80-90% of this generation of Passats must have been sold as station wagons, at least that’s what it seemed like on the road. It was a popular car, but you would hardly ever see the sedan version…sometimes the hatchback/lift back version pictured here, but hardly ever a sedan.

7 months ago

“It got bland when they chickened out and added a grille back, like candy-asses.”

Infiniti was wondering why its Q45 model wasn’t a runaway seller despite being the first production passenger car to have full active suspension system (Q45a). The consumer clinics revealed that the grille-less luxury cars don’t scream luxury or “flagship”. For the 1994 update, the Q45 gained the grille, proclaiming itself finally as a “luxury” and “flagship”. Did it help with sales? Nope…

7 months ago

I remember Dashers, Quantums, and of course Passats fondly. Don’t think I ever saw that big, sleek three-door Passat hatch though… it’s quite handsome. Before I came to the old lighting site, I spent a couple decades at Fred’s TDI club website. I used to pore over the thousands and thousands of forum posts seeking useful tidbits of information and I seem to recall that the grill-less Passat wagon had an extra big fuel tank and when filling it (like some other cars) you could manually exhaust the room usually reserved for vapors in the tank so as to fit another gallon or two of diesel. I believe it was one of these grill-less Passat TDI wagons that held the record for longest distance travelled on a single tank of fuel in the site’s hypermiling competition. I don’t recall the actual number of miles travelled (we’re talking about something I read over a decade ago) but it was something more than 700 and less than 1,000. I think it was closer to 1,000, since A4 Golf TDIs could manage close to 700 miles on a tank if not driven in anger.

Those grill-less Passats, though perhaps not quite as handsome as the gen 5 and 5.5 models (which I also lusted after, though for more aesthetic reasons) did have a LOT of cargo room in the back (of the wagon) and were available with manual transmissions. Wish I had bought one myself. Probably close to impossible to find now I imagine, let alone in decent/daily driver condition.

7 months ago
Reply to  Scott

I Also used to be on Fred’s for Years, 1st proactively bc I wanted to learn all the mechanical quarks (bc duh VW), of TDIs before buying one And it helped me decide what vw model w/a tdi I wanted to search for…
A B4 Passat tdi wagon with a manual transmission was what I was searching for… I ended up with a base TDI Jetta with a manual trans. bc trying to find a B4 Passat wagon this with manual was rarer then hens teeth, which makes sense, I was looking a model vw didn’t sell a lot of (Passat) and w/in that a rarely selected engine type (tdi), in a body style (of an uncommon model) And I wanted a manual trans…

7 months ago
Reply to  Torque

I spent a lot of pre-emptory reading at Fred’s trying to find a manual B4 Passat wagon too (since that was my preferred format… I’m almost never in a rush to get someplace, so I’m fine w/slow ;-)) but like you Torque, I couldn’t find one so I wound up with a one-year-old 2000 Golf TDI (GLS in satin silver) that I drove for over 20 years and only recently sold a few months ago.

Though I really don’t need it now, if a manual Passat TDI wagon in usable shape crossed my path today with any sort of reasonable price, I’d probably still buy it. 🙂

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